Week 6 Reading

Week 6 Reading Log

The Reading:

  • Rabiger, M. (2004) Directing the Documentary, London: Focal Press. Ch.9 Critical Writing

There is only one short chapter this week as presentations were set in the workshop, to see this, see my post called ‘my presentation‘. I was also told to start filming shots to be used in my final documentary film, (Very exciting) and so began doing this also this week, to see more see a future post on ‘Filming the documentary’.

Critical writing

Rabiger opens this chapter by discussing the importance of critical writing, how it makes you pay attention to all aspects of a documentary film and provides the opportunity to learn from that film, what it does well and what it does not. Critical writing should not just be reporting on the film in question, it should be to view that film again in an analytical light and to inform the person you’re addressing with new information as so they can view the film in a new way. The style should be “in clear, direct, formal, active-voice prose” pp.114.

Rabiger lays out the guidelines for critical or analytical writing on page 114, that it should;

  • “Give detailed examples from the films or texts to illustrate your views, but doesn’t assume the reader knows the films in any detail
  • Seek support for its views from other critics but take issue with aspects with which you disagree
  • Give citations, either as footnotes or endnotes, for any ideas you borrowed or any quotations you have reproduced”


The next two sections are tasks Rabiger has set for the reader to complete as an introduction to analyse documentary film. Rabiger lays out his ideal for analysing first film structure and style and then the director’s dramatic vision.

Analysing a documentary for structure and style

  1. Stop after each sequence to record the details most important to one’s analysis, such as mise-en-scène, lighting, audio etc.
  2. Define the beginning and end points of each sequence giving it a tag description and calculating its length
  3. Write a description of the documentary’s content
  4. After compiling these, the film’s structure will be an easy trend to locate. Pointing out the integral sections you can divide the film into its acts
  5. The film’s style should also be an easy trend to spot after tagging each section of the film
  6. Finally, Rabiger discuss’ mentioning “the thematic impact of the film and its overall effectiveness” pp. 114

Analysing a director’s thematic vision

This section is quite a detailed method to analyse a director’s thematic vision which I shall attempt not to simply plagiarise while describing the method Rabiger discuss’.

  1. See a wide variety of the director’s body of work, this will reveal trends the director follows
  2. Note the feeling evoked by these films
  3. Assemble relevant articles and essays on the director’s body of work
  4. Re-watch the chosen few films from the director of your study this time taking notes of each sequence (see above.)
  5. On writing this thematic case study of a director body of work, add in biographical information that may have influenced them,
    • The director’s personal and professional past
    • The director’s intended influence for the audience’s, perspective
    • The level of social awareness of the films in question
    • The degree that the films anticipate the audience’s reactions to their sequence’s and the success of the director’s use of this information
    • How successful the visual and aural aspects of the film are in conveying the director’s purpose
    • And finally, how the viewer’s (your) own attitudes to the subject matter influenced their (your) understanding of the director’s thematic vision

In Conclusion

This weeks reading was very short, for reasons laid out in the opening of this post, yet this is an important aspect of documentary filmmaking to cover, especially for someone who desires a future in film journalism. Critical writing is something I have covered in my Film analysis course and Issue in European Cinema course, but it is still something I struggle with in my film career and hope to get better at in the future. Critical analysis and critical writing are endevourse I will likely puruse going forward in film as these are the aspects of cinema that I struggle with the most. (I love a challenge.)

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